Need to convince the big bosses that your IT budget makes sense? Trying to get them to free up enough funds for you to, well, actually do your job? Tired of running N-3 operating systems on hardware that you donated away two years ago? Well then it sounds like you have the challenge of trying to get your CxO to free up enough funds to actually function like it’s 2015 (hey, I know it’s 2017, but if you’re in one of the situations above, even getting to 2015 will be a huge improvement!) If you have to go in front of a CxO and try to explain why the company needs to invest in IT, here are some tips to help you close the deal.

Don’t Geek Out

Unless you know your CxO is into technology, make sure you don’t “geek out” and start using buzz words, techie lingo, or anything else that might make her or him think you’re a nerd. CxOs are business leaders, even CIOs and CISOs, and they want to hear about things in their language and on their terms, not ours!

Get to the point, quickly

Time is money, and they time they are taking to interact with you is time they could be spending doing something else, like playing golf or day-trading or negotiation big dollar deals. Yes, your time is important too, but in the grand scheme of things, theirs is worth more than yours, so keep that in mind and get to the point soon. Be prepared to go deep if that is what they want to do, but go in keeping things concise and high-level. You’re more likely to get a favourable reaction if they don’t think you’re wasting their time.

Send read-aheads and leave read-behinds

I don’t want to generalize, but in my experience, CxOs don’t like to be seen not knowing at least something about everything. In your meeting invite, it’s a good idea to include some highlights of what you are asking for, with links to online reading they can check out ahead of time so they have a general clue about what you are asking to do. Odds are also good you won’t get an answer right away, so have some more detail available for them to read online, especially if it’s content from CIO.com, Forrester, Gartner, or other executive focused sources.

Avoid buzzword bingo

Much like “Don’t Geek Out” above, but more to the point, be careful with how you state things. It’s one thing to try to use vocabulary relevant to the ask, but it’s quite another to sprinkle your pitch with every phrase you’ve seen in a Gartner report or all the fancy phrases you see online.

Remember you’re selling

You don’t think you’re in sales? Take a closer look. Your CxO has limited time, limited budget, and limited resources, and if you are talking to them, you’re asking for a big chunk of one or more of those things. You are going to have to SELL them on why your ask is more important, more advantageous, and more worthy than all the rest. And for goodness’ sake, make sure at the end of it all, you actually ASK for the sale? You can lead a CxO to the decision, but if you don’t ask them for a YES, you may never get it.

Talk about the competitive advantages

We’re talking investments here. So make sure you highlight why this investment, whatever it is, will provide the business with an advantage. Want new laptops? Talk about how the new technology is more secure, will enable the employees to be more productive, and to deliver services to their customers more efficiently. Want to upgrade your software? Make sure you highlight how the new version’s improved features will enable the company to do things the competition cannot. Remember, IT does not exist for IT’s sake…it’s a tool to support and empower the business. Make sure you highlight how what you’re asking for does exactly that.

Explain the ROI

Again, if you’re talking to a CxO then you’re talking about some significant costs. You need to be able to explain the return on investment whatever you’re asking for will provide. Maybe it’s in improved efficiencies, or mitigated risks, or user empowerment…whatever it is, make sure you can explain how the investment of X dollars today will net X+Y dollars tomorrow.

Highlight how the investment will help the company to achieve the mission

And always make sure you talk about how the investment will support the company’s goals. Every business, even not-for-profits, has a mission. How does this investment in technology support that mission and make it easier for the employees to deliver, or improves their efficiencies, or supports customer satisfaction or goodwill.

Explain the costs of NOT investing

You are going to get this question, so be prepared to explain what could happen if they don’t approve it. Are you asking for patch management software to make it easier to keep your systems up to date? Then explain how much all the manual efforts cost, the risk something will get missed, and the costs should that miss lead to a compromise. Want new servers? Talk about the chances of a hardware failure if you keep using the old ones, how much downtime such a failure could result in, and what the costs of that would be. You want to ensure the CxO sees the investment as the logical choice and that not making the investment will cost more.

Be aware of the company’s current situation

No matter how good an idea you have, if the company is struggling financially, it’s not the right time to ask for more. Make sure you are not asking for an investment at a time when the company is desperately looking to cut costs, or you run the risk of not only getting a NO as an answer, but highlighting that IT is typically a cost center that doesn’t (directly) generate any revenue. Timing really is everything!

A picture is worth a thousand words

Whether that picture is a bar graph or a pie chart or any other visual representation, don’t be afraid to support your ask with a brief PowerPoint deck that highlight things. Remember, red is bad, and green is good, and colour your slides and graphs accordingly. A PowerPoint with some links to that leave-behind is a great way to provide them enough detail to go on as well.

If you’re explaining an investment to your CxO, be brief, be confident, and be sure to ask for the investment when you’re done. You may not get an answer right away, but if you put it into terms they understand, show how the investment is going to return more than it costs, and explain that not making the investment could cost more than not, you stand a better than average chance of getting what you need.